PODCAST: Indigenous women & prostitution: An interview with Cherry Smiley

Prostitution is a gendered issue, but it’s also an issue that is very much tied to class and race. Canada’s history of colonialism is not something to be ignored when looking at both causes of and solutions to prostitution.

In this episode, I speak with Cherry Smiley, co-founder of Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI), a volunteer group of radical feminists from many nations committed to the abolition of prostitution and pornography.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • MLM

    Another fantastic interview, Meghan. Such great points made by Cherry Smiley. It’s very significant that there seems to have been no concept of prostitution amongst Canadian indigenous peoples pre-contact with Europeans. It really highlights the ties between prostitution, capitalism and inequity.

    Wishing all the best for IWASI.

  • riv

    There may not have been prostitution but native men bartered off their daughters as young as 12-14 to the Europeans for a rifle or to secure trade status. Did this begin then, or did they do the same when they wanted certain native allies?

    I’m a supporter of IWASI, and I too wish them all the best.

  • julie

    Murphy. Wrong. Himel decided in September 2010 that all the contested provisions – bawdy house, avails AND communicating were violations of the charter. On March 26/12 the appeal court upheld her view on bawdy house, partially upheld her avails decision and they disagreed that the communicating law was a charter violation. It is headed to the supreme court this summer. Get your facts straight Meghan.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hey girl,

      You’re right! It was the Ontario court of appeal that decided to legalize brothels, but keep the other laws (i.e. the communcation law and the pimping law) — I’ll fix those deets.

      thanks!
      m

  • marv wheale

    I can’t think of a single interview that is more pertinent than this one Meghan in coming to grips with the social reality of prostitution. It is a testament too to your solidarity with aboriginal women.
    There is no evidence that I know of to contradict Cherry’s contention that prostitution did not exist among First Nations in Canada (and probably Turtle Island/North America) prior to contact with European men. The practice was known however among the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs well before the Spanish Conquistadors came on the scene.
    The development of prostitution under white male colonial industrial capitalism did not advance in a gradual way like it did in the pre-colonial and preindustrial era. Doubtless some small time independent pimp enterprises slowly grew into larger businesses before contact. As capitalism and colonialism expanded along with their corresponding accumulation so did pimping. Once world markets began to open up after the so called European “discoveries” of foreign lands, prostitution proliferated to meet the commercial requirements of the new geopolitical conditions white men had created. The conquest of indigenous populations was driven by the desire for land, furs and precious metals. Many First Nations women were scooped up by the male colonizers to add to their acquisitions. At that point the “capitalist mode” (of course women, men and children were bartered and traded long before it, even in many tribal cultures) of producing and consuming prostitutes had surpassed the local and national to become international in scope as it is today. It relied heavily on the power of the state to hasten the evolution of the market economy into a world network and a western form of uncivilization.

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